Gentry interviews some local kids with talent, drive and a mission -- to reach for the stars.
Just as in Lake Wobegon, in Silicon Valley it seems that all the children are above average. And the young men and women profiled here are especially so. They have been given the gift of knowing achievement at a young age. So, if you think of youth as a time of untapped potential, think again. These singers, activists, athletes, entrepreneurs and philanthropists are bravura acts who are using their talents with passion, focus and generosity -- right here and right now. Get ready world, here they come…
Golfer Bobby Jones once observed that “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course...the space between your ears.” That’s where Spencer Fletcher found the focus he needed to win the 2005 San Francisco Junior Open last summer, joining a list of tournament champions that includes PGA pro Johnny Miller and former USGA President Grant Spaeth. With little tour experience under his belt, Fletcher shot a 71 to qualify for the Open and followed with four match-play victories in two days, but found himself one down after 15 holes in the tournament final. He tied the match on the 16th hole, took the lead with a 6-foot putt on the 17th, and birdied the 18th for what most believe will be the first of many wins.
“The hardest thing to understand about the difference between a regular golf game and tournament play,” says Fletcher, who will enter his junior year at Mountain View High School this fall, “is the pressure. People can’t understand how much harder it becomes. I just expect the nervousness and focus on what I have to do.” The 16-year-old Los Altos resident, who also plays for his school team, planned to spend this past summer qualifying for the U.S. Junior Amateur Open, the U.S. Amateur, and the NorCal Junior Amateur, and defending his San Francisco Junior title. Then he’ll put down his clubs for a few months while he captains the water polo team at Mountain View High School, where he has made 1st team all-league teams in both sports in his freshman and sophomore years. If he stays that course, he’ll make eight all-league teams in his high school career and as many tournaments as he cares to focus on.
Most Recent Achievement: Achieving Eagle Scout ranking | Wildest Dream: Getting through college, going to the PGA tour, being a really good player and being able to spend an entire career having fun and winning tournaments | Good Luck Charm: I don’t believe in luck. The ball goes where you hit it | Favorite Sports Figure: Pro Parker McLachlin who has been a great mentor and friend
Nathan and Zach Doctor
Nathan and Zach Doctor didn't set out to start a business. But when their father's bike group ordered new tires from Europe and they arrived in the wrong color, 13-year-old Nathan learned how to list the tires on eBay and 11-year-old Zach packed and shipped them. The two boys immediately recognized the business opportunity -- bike tires cost almost as much as car tires, but wear out more quickly. They started ordering discounted tires from Europe and re-selling them on eBay. A website, www.biketiresdirect.com, quickly followed. The 800 number for the business rang in Zach's bedroom 24 hours a day and the garage's extra parking space soon filled with more than $1million worth of tires. The boys prided themselves on fast service, toting 100-pound packages to the post office three times a day.
By the time they both entered Menlo School, things began to get a little out of control -- even with a full-time employee, the boys were working 40 hours a week in addition to playing football and attending class, their sister was writing Google ads, and tires filled the entire garage, the boys' bedrooms and the front hall. So they sold a 50% share in their company, Velotech, Inc., which today has a 30% market share and annual sales of $3 million. The boys re-invested their earnings in the company, now warehoused in Oregon, and will decide in a few years whether they want to be more involved again. In the meantime, they're keeping their hands in with summer jobs at the company and trips abroad to visit dealers in Germany and France where BikeTiresDirect.com opens next spring.
Most admired business figure: Nathan: Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer Zach: Pierre Omidyar, founder of Ebay | Plans for the future: Nathan: Compete in the Tour de France Zach: Be an entrepreneur | Most treasured possession: Nathan: My bicycle Zach: My Barry Bonds autographed baseball
Seventeen-year-old Yi Sun spent his senior year reading Joseph Heller, swimming on the varsity team, captaining the Science Bowl, playing poker in the student lounge -- and making a breakthrough discovery in a field of theoretical mathematics known as combinatorics that won him second prize in the Intel Science Talent Search, the oldest, most prestigious science competition in the United States. Sun's research project examined the winding number of a random walk, showing the number of steps one can expect to take around an originating point on a coordinate plane is infinite. The complicated formula he developed -- it produced vertiginous stacks of calculations -- has practical applications in both computer science, such as how to design routing, and chemistry, showing how molecules join together to form polymers.
Chosen from an initial pool of applicants numbering more than 1600, Sun traveled with forty other semi-finalists to Washington, D.C. There he went through a rapid-fire grilling by four panels of judges to test his knowledge of science and mathematics, defended his thesis to mathematicians and scientists in the rotunda of the National Academy of Sciences, and presented his project at a public exhibition where he discussed random walks with a Chinese gentleman in his native language. The Harker School graduate will take his medal and $75,000 scholarship winnings to Harvard next year, where he intends to study science and math with an eye toward a career as a research scientist -- perhaps to follow in the footsteps of earlier winners who have garnered six Nobel prizes.
Most treasured possession: My ability to reason | Inspiration in life: The nuggets of beauty I find in it | Most defining characteristic: My curiosity | Most admired person in the world of science: Richard Feynman | Greatest enjoyment in life: Discovering something new
Gideon Hausner School's 7th Grade Class
In the Jewish faith, the principle of Tzedakah calls for acts of righteous giving. Since 1999, the seventh graders of Palo Alto’s Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School have chosen to forego bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah gifts and donate these funds to charity, under the auspices of a two-year intensive program in service and social action called Avodah L’Olam, which means "the work of the world" in Hebrew. Beginning in the fall, at a time when most 13-year-olds are focused on friends and birthday bashes, these students begin a wide-ranging discussion of philanthropy. Ultimately, each of them chooses a charitable cause and pens a personal mission statement outlining how they can contribute.
In the course of the project, the students become experts on their organizations and passionate about their causes. Their selections are often deeply personal. Matthew Roy chose the Breast Cancer Research Foundation because a good friend of his parents had died from the disease. Benjamin Lehman chose a school in Jaipur, India where, for an annual tuition of $27, impoverished students receive an education. Rachel Silver chose the Cystic Fibrosis Research Institute because the organization had helped her in her own struggle with the life-threatening disease.
Fundraising letters solicit donations from friends and family in addition to the students’ bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah money. Small fundraisers are held as well, such as babysitting during teacher conferences. Fifty per cent of the money raised is divided among all the charities. The remainder is allocated according to a vote by the classmates – after each of them has had the chance to persuade the others of the immediacy of their chosen causes. In the spring, all their hard work culminates in a ceremony where the charities are presented with their donations. “This is what philanthropy is,” notes Sarah Shulman, who teaches the class. “The difference one can make in the world.”
Dollars donated through Avodah L'Olam since 1999: Approximately $250,000 | Organizations receiving funds: More than 100 nonprofits around the world, including the American Heart Association, Urban Ministry of Palo Alto, Global Fund for Children, Israeli Red Cross, and Planned Parenthood | Number of students who have completed the program: 200 | Words to live by: "It is with great joy that I give" -- the phrase most often used by students as they present their donations
Tara Chandra is an honor student headed to Columbia University to study political science and economics, winner of the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts award in non-fiction, and vocalist for the San Jose Jazz Society and Peninsula Teen Opera. The key to understanding this triple threat teen may be found in her own words. Asked to describe her most defining characteristic, she replied, "My will to live! My determination to stay positive, keep happy, be at peace, work hard, and use up all the living this world can possibly give me."
Chandra wrote her first book of poetry when she was five, "A Buzz in a Bee." A stay at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, a staff slot at her school's literary magazine, and more awards followed, including the National Scholastic's highest honor. At ten, Chandra took the stage to sing Thumbelina. A dramatic soprano, she has since sung roles in Bizet and Puccini, but when it comes to jazz, it's all torch songs and the blues. And when she wasn't immersed in Faulkner or Billie Holiday, Chandra lead Harker School's Junior State of America, the country's largest student-run organization. And the future? "My plan is to work my way up to an executive position in a financial group, become financially secure, then move on to the United Nations, maybe the International Court of Justice," she says. "Once I've got my investments and savings in order, I'll be able to really focus on helping others and working toward peace for the rest of my life." And that's a lot of living.
Favorite writer: Octavio Paz | Role she aspires to sing: Verdi's Aida | Most-played song on iPod: I don't own an iPod!
The schoolboy three-sport athlete used to be a common sight on playing fields and sport courts until specialization and year-round schedules made them an endangered species. But they're not yet extinct -- witness 11-year-old Andrew Buchanan of Los Altos Hills who is a standout in baseball, basketball, and golf. Last season, Buchanan pitched 5 complete game victories for the Los Altos Little League All Star team, which won the District 44 Championship and placed second in the Section tournament. He played center and power forward for the National Junior Basketball League and lead his SLAM All Net team in scoring and rebounding. And he gave up club soccer and tennis, so he could spend the rest of his time on the links at Los Altos Golf and Country Club where, as a member of the Northern California Golf Association, he regularly competes in junior tournaments.
A fan of Maniac McGee books and Super Smash Brothers video games, Buchanan also plays piano and his favorite subject at Pinewood School is science. For the last two years, he was the recipient of the school's Presidential Award, given to students who maintain a grade point average above 95%. However, his perfect attendance record, nurtured since kindergarten, was marred when he had to travel to play a baseball tournament in Las Vegas. "I had never missed a day of school or been tardy," he says. "But we talked it over with my principal and he really wanted me to do the tournament." His principal no doubt realized there would be many other records in Buchanan's future.
Sports hero: Tiger Woods | Favorite Bay area team: San Francisco Giants | When and when he's happiest: At Disneyland
Jill Hagey is a senior at Menlo School who plays lacrosse, bakes chocolate chip cookies for her friends, treasures her collection of Harry Potter books and feels most at home in Africa. In the last two years, Hagey and her mother have walked across the mushroom hills and hot valleys of South Africa's Zulu countryside and traversed Tanzania's villages and fields of banana trees with Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the background as part of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation Walk for Hope. Along the way, they visited the clinics, schools, and orphanages supported by the life-saving programs of the Foundation, whose work has reached more than 3 million women around the world and is at the forefront of research and treatment of pediatric AIDS/HIV.
Sponsored by friends and family, Jill and her mother have raised more than $50,000 that will go toward funding the search for an AIDS vaccine, therapies to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and cheaper and better treatment options. "In Africa, AIDS is a huge problem," says Hagey. "But despite harsh conditions, they find a way to be happy about their lives and I take that back to America with me. We should appreciate every moment." Inspired by her first walk, Hagey returned in the summer of 2005 to study the health care systems of Senegal, where the AIDS infection rate is lowest, and again this year to do live in a village in Botswana and perform community service. She hopes to study public health in college, has begun learning Swahili, and will certainly return to the continent that she says "feels like home."
Most admired person: Buddha Mathathe, a South African soccer player who has adopted 26 AIDS orphans | Inspiration in life: Knowing I am lucky to be living the life I have | Greatest challenge: Standing up straight -- at 5'11", I have a tendency to slouch
Kimberley Morris found her motto in the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead -- "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world." And she is on a path to demonstrate the continuing wisdom of Mead's words. A third-year law student, Morris is the president of Stanford's Law Students for Choice, a non-partisan national organization committed to educating lawyers in reproductive rights law -- training that fewer and fewer law schools offer. Successfully defending and expanding reproductive freedoms is a cause that doesn't come without risks -- it's an issue that incites harassment and violence. But Morris has been interested in women's rights issues since her high school days at Castilleja and under her leadership, Stanford Students for Choice has experienced consistent growth, expanding its influence both on campus and in the Bay area through involvement with Planned Parenthood and NARAL.
Morris had thought on and off about becoming a lawyer, but it wasn't until she was midway through Princeton that she experienced her "aha moment" in a course in civil rights and public policy. After graduating, she put in a year at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, gaining experience in litigation and immigration and domestic violence law. Articles editor of Stanford's Law Review, Morris will step down from the presidency of Law Students for Choice next year and serve as their activism chair. When she graduates next May, she'll look for a job with a civil rights group where she'll pursue what she most admires in the law -- "justice for the underdog."
Favorite historical figure: Martin Luther King, Jr. | Most marked characteristic: My curly hair | Most admired person: My mom
Nicole Kamra and Nicole Bitler
The typical teenager's iPod is loaded with Gnarls Barkley, Nelly Furtado, Kanye West or The Fray. But Nicole Kamra and Nicole Bitler aren't exactly typical. Because when Kamra's iPod isn't playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Stadium Arcadium and Bitler isn't listening to Tobey Keith and Brooks & Dunn, they're immersed in cavatinas and librettos, leitmotiv and cantabile. Kamra and Bitler are classically trained singers and members of Peninsula Teen Opera, the training ground and performing company for Bay Area teens who have an ear for Puccini as well as the Black-Eyed Peas.
Kamra began studying piano at six and singing with the Peninsula Girls Chorus when she was seven. Bitler took her first role with Peninsula Youth Theatre when she was five, before moving on to Saratoga's Light Opera. The girls share a voice teacher, Iris Fraser, and it was Fraser who introduced them to classical music. She also encouraged them to try out for Peninsula Teen Opera where, in the last four seasons, they've sung roles in Orfeo, The Marriage of Figaro, and Hansel and Gretel. Bitler, an honor student at Menlo Atherton High, prefers the more emotional and challenging form of classical opera. Kamra, though she loves singing Musetta's aria from La Boheme, prefers jazz. The Menlo School junior has attended the prestigious Jazz Workshop for the last five years and just completed a demo CD. Both girls find time for more than music. Kamra plays varsity golf and tutors in French and math. And Bitler is on MA's varsity water polo team and volunteers in the school's community leadership programs. Bitler plans to study biology in college and Kamra is interested in international relations and law, but this fall both will be making time for more auditions and arias.
Favorite Opera: Bitler: La Boheme Kamra: Gianni Schicci | Favorite Performer: Bitler: Michele Detwiler of Opera San Jose Kamra: Jack Johnson and Norah Jones
Tori Amthony and Lindsay Taylor
Lindsay Taylor and Tori Anthony are two terrifically talented high school athletes poised for NCAA careers and -- potentially -- future Olympic berths
Known for her finesse in taking on players one-on-one and scoring, Taylor plays forward for the MVLA Mercury club soccer team, currently ranked number two in the nation. The number one goal scorer and assister, Taylor has led her team to two State Championships. "She's the best forward in the country in her age group," notes coach Albertin Montoya. In 2005, at the Las Vegas College Showcase, she was invited to join the under-17 National Team, which grooms players for future Olympics play. A junior at Castilleja School, Taylor takes three months off each year to play flank guard for the school's basketball team, where she was last year's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. But it's soccer she looks forward to playing in college, where she's thinking about studying law -- with an eye toward the Olympics. They already have their eyes on her.
All-American pole vaulter Anthony has been well served by the strength and athleticism developed in ten years of gymnastics. A former state champion in balance beam, she burned out at fifteen and spent the summer trying on other sports for size. Two years later, having never competed in any track or field event before her sophomore year, Anthony is the national champion in the girls pole vault. The Castilleja senior brought her school its first state title in June when she cleared 13'3" inches, just off her personal best of 13'4", delivering the first state title to the Central Coast Section as well. With two seasons -- indoor and outdoor -- pole vaulting doesn't leave a lot of time for other activities, but Anthony is also goalie for the Castilleja varsity water polo team. She'll miss the team's summer tournament in Hawaii, though. She'll be in Beijing competing in the World Championships in the pole vault.
Personal Hero: Lindsay: My brothers Jonathan, 18, and Matthew, 14, who challenge and support me all the time Tori: Yelena Isinbajeva, the world record holder in the pole vault | Most important characteristic for a female athlete: Lindsay: Confidence Tori: Commitment | Greatest Challenge: Lindsay: Balancing national camps with Castilleja academics Tori: Switching sports
In the winter of 2003, Jessica Goldman had just returned from a quarter abroad in Florence. An accomplished dancer, she looked forward to auditioning for companies after graduation from Stanford. But her life took a dramatic detour when she was diagnosed with lupus. A chronic autoimmune disease that affects the joints and almost every major organ in the body including the heart, lungs, skin, kidneys and brain, lupus is characterized by extreme fatigue, joint pain and weakness. It can also precipitate severe complications. There is no cure. Within weeks, the disease had attacked Jessica's brain and kidneys. She was having grand mal seizures, her bone marrow stopped producing red blood cells and her kidneys failed.
This was the beginning of her life with lupus, a journey she was joined on by classmates, friends, doctors, nurses, and family. "They gave me the energy and strength to fight. They were my life support," she said. "To say that I was touched by these people does not even begin to describe the impact they had on me." At night in the hospital, unable to sleep, Jessica would talk with her mother about what they would do when, not if, she got better. And over the hum of the dialysis machine, they began to plan a fundraiser -- the Circle of Friends. To date, Circle of Friends has raised more than $130,000 for the Alliance of Lupus Research, whose mission is to find better treatments and ultimately, a cure. Jessica graduated from Stanford as planned in 2005, and today volunteers at the Arthritis Foundation and dances whenever she can. The third annual Circle of Friends fundraiser will take place in November -- a holiday craft fair with hot chocolate and cider served under twinkling Italian lights. It carries Jessica's message of thanks to all those who have touched her life.
Greatest challenge: Balancing what should be the life of a twenty-something while acknowledging my disease and taking care of myself | Favorite saying: If your life has changed, then change your life | Most admired person: My mother, who has modeled for me how to live with a disease as well as how to celebrate and appreciate life
For more information about the upcoming Circle of Friends benefit, visit www.allianceforlupusresearch.org.